This is Jessica Blaine Smith, from Toronto, photographer and co-founder of Bartender Atlas and Toronto Cocktail Conference.
Jess is from Port Hope, about an hour East of Toronto. She moved to the city in 1999 and went to university to study photography. When she graduated, she started her own business and originally focused on wedding photography. With time, her clients started to have kids, which led her to do some family portraits as well. Eventually, she also did boudoir photography. After a couple of years of running her own business, Jess decided to get a studio. It was a huge space, she used it for herself and partly rented it as well. It was a beast to run and she did it for 13 years. Four years ago, she decided to let it go. She wasn’t using it much anymore, managing tenants was a lot and using the same space for so long became a little too easy for her, she wanted more challenge. Moving her studio home, she freed up some time to focus more on Bartender Atlas. It was also at that time that Jess shifted her focus from weddings to portraits.
Jess finds that there is a lot power in giving people space and time to make them feel good. People hire her to take pictures of them and it’s her job to make them feel at ease and open up. If you give people proper time, photographing them sometimes leads to them telling their stories and dark secrets. A little bit like bartending, photographing offers a possibility to affect people’s lives and it’s an honour for her to be able to give people that space, open conversation and active listening.
If there is one advice that Jess would offer to people that want to become professional photographers, it’s to truly put in the work to learn. She reminds us that nowadays, it’s very easy for people to buy cameras, put them on the automatic settings and think that they take great photos. If she does not think that people necessarily need to go to school for it, just like bartending, you have to actually put in the work to learn it. Do some research, go to a gallery, look into historical photos, learn the settings and find yourself a good mentor that’s going to be honest with you.
Overall, on top of being a very good photographer, Jess has become an important part of our community. She has a deep understanding of our industry and has put her skills towards making it shine around the world. Part of us are in awe of her many talents and dedication. We hope that learning a little bit more about her will inspire you in turn.